By: guano Sep 23, 2013 | 0 Comments
Tips for making a solid decision, buying a video card
I've been building PCs for about 15 years now. Everything has changed so much! In most ways it has gotten easier and more affordable for the average person to roll their own gaming computer. Here is a link to my current setup if you're into that sorta thing. I wanna throw out a few of the most important considerations when buying an enthusiast class graphics card. I would define an enthusiast GPU as one that gives you uncompromising performance and image quality. You can game on a mainstream class card and decrease the image quality and play just about any game starting at $150.00 bucks at 1080p. The enthusiast cards start at $225.00. Here are some tips on choosing the right card with some links to help you along.
- Unless you are wealthy or crazy, you should consider price to performance as a key metric in buying a card. There is a diminishing return in the form of minimum frames per second when you pass the mid range price of about $250.00, which tends to be the sweet spot. At the time of writing this, the GTX 760 sells for exactly $250.00 and is Tom's favorite in the 2-$300 range. You can play the most demanding games on the high setting @1080p. Not too shabby!!! Along with minimum frame rate you should look at a GPUs ability deliver smooth frames to your display.These are the 2 most important factors behind price to performance.
- When using benchmarks to help decide, remember that a single GPU solution is always better than multi GPU. There will be a condition known as micro stutter in a multi GPU setup to contend with as well. Mileage will vary upon your setup as well. Beware. AMDs Crossfire is pretty broken and if you must run 2+ GPUs, you must go with the green team There is also the issue of scaling when running multiple GPUs, may it be 2 GPUs on one card or multiple cards. In general, a 2 GPU solution will only yield around 85-90% of theoretical perf. Adding a third or fourth GPU has a dramatically less efficient scaling and should really be avoided from a price/perf point of view. If your ultimate goal is to have the performance of the $500 GPU, just wait and buy it when you have all the cash. Granted 2 $250 GPUs will be faster, it will most likely require a multi GPU ready power supply and motherboard that were designed for these configs, which will most likely be more costly in the long run. Multi GPU setups are not for the faint of heart or for those on a budget. It can be a pain to manage and introduces cooling considerations that most aren't ready for. It can be hot and loud unless perfectly executed.
- You don't need a card over $250 unless you absolutely insist on running the highest level of antialiasing in your games or you're running a resolution over 1920x1080. All that extra horsepower may actually go to waste. Buying the über card will only see gains in minimum FPS at 1080 seeing that the $250 card is probably frame capped at 60 on the max FPS side already! You can pretty much max the eye candy on an enthusiast class card. If you want higher minimum FPS, turn down the antialiasing. It is often the bottleneck. Most serious online multiplayer gamers (may that be WoW, FFXIV, DotA, LoL or CoD, CS or BF) run low or no AA and turn off v-sync because they are the settings that most effect display lag. With those settings in line your minimum FPS will never be an issue with the other settings cranked!
- There needs to be some balance in your computer. If you're running a CPU that doesn't have an integrated memory controller, you may want to consider a CPU and motherboard first. It's not so much about this one feature as you are probably more than four or five generations back in architecture. A GTX 760 and an Intel Core Duo is an example of a 7 year old platform with a modern GPU. There will be a bottleneck between the components. A new GPU will scale with your platform, meaning the faster the CPU, the more frames the GPU will give you! You can get an i3 (with abysmal integrated graphics perf) and a motherboard for $250. These GPUs need to stay fed and that's just what it takes these days. If you have a platform more than 3 or 4 generations back, don't spend money on a new card. Consider a used GTX 4xx or HD 5xxx series GPU. Other budget based alternatives are an AMD APU and motherboard for about $250, that will give you the gaming performance of about a $100 discrete GPU, possibly killing two birds with one stone, if you are just way behind the times. Instructions per clock are not on par on AMD CPUs, compared to Intel's latest offerings but this is a very viable solution for those on a budget!
Good luck and have fun!
Will third party PCBs and cooling solutions clean the egg on AMDs face, surrounding the R9 290X?
As a follow up to my post about Radeon R9 290X and its thermal throttling, there has been some ripples in the pond, especially around third party cards. The issue with all reference R9 290X cards (PCB and cooling designed by AMD as a reference for their partners to follow for minimum power and cooling requirements) has been that the cards have no minimum clock speed. The room and case you're running the card in are the metrics that will decide what clock the card will run at... NVIDIA has a minimum clock speed that their cards will run at and it will clock up if it has the thermal headroom. AMD R9 cards will just keep clocking down with no base(clock). There is so much drama around this card, I encourage you to Dorito it and see for yourself.
Well, partners like ASUS and MSI are giving out samples of non-reference PCB and cooling solutions for the 290X this week. The results are astounding. The reviews of the ASUS DirectCU II specifically, show that the card can sustain 15% faster clocks due to more effective cooling. The main issue I have with R9 290X is still not resolved. There is still no minimum clock speed and if you don't have exceptional cooling, I still suggest you do not buy a 290X. Don't be fooled by the price difference between AMD and NVIDIA's flagship cards. They are not created equal in this current iteration. There is a real value in spending a little more money for knowing exactly how your GPU will perform. At least you get to choose if you're on the red team or the gold team when you buy ASUS's latest! Nonetheless, I'm glad to see board partners picking up the slack that AMD left out there. We need at least a two horse race if we expect any innovation in the industry, so thank you for keeping AMD in the race, ASUS! Here is a link to a review of the ASUS Radeon R9 290X DirectCU II for you to check out!
PC component performance, heat and you!
The AMD Radeon R9 Series follows the latest trend in PC components having their advertised performance rated as an "up to X Mhz". You can no longer buy a GPU or CPU for that matter and have the rating on the package be the actual real world performance all the time. It's complicated...
For the sake of this writing, most graphics cards have 3 states of perfomance, which is also related to their power consumption and heat output. When you're not gaming, your GPU is in what I call, "desktop mode". It is a low power, low heat, low performance mode where you get maybe a 2-300 Mhz of your advertized 1 Ghz performance. It is intended to save power, so we lower the clock to draw windows on the monitor for tasks like browsing the web. This lowers heat, fan noise and power usage. We don't need to run full bore, so we don't!
Next up is, "gaming mode"! It is as it implies, the GPU runs at full power and speed to give you all the gaming performance you paid for... sort of. Every manufacturer has a different implementation, but the gist is that these modern chips will run as fast as they can, as long as they stay under a temperature or power envelope set by the manufacturer. So for example, NVIDIA's GPU runs at a set minimum clock speed and can throttle up to higher clocks so long as it stays under a set power or thermal limit. This is the third state that I call, "turbo mode". If you have better system cooling, you get higher clocks and lower fan speeds on the GPU at all speed steppings. This desktop, gaming and turbo mode model are the standard these days. My concern is the approach AMD took on its flagship R9 series GPUs.
The R9 290 and 290X have implemented more of a 2 stage approach. In gaming mode, instead of implementing a minimum clock speed, that will be maintained at all costs, at the expense of ramping the fan up and up, like intel and NVIDIA, they reduce their clock speed to maintain thermals, lower and lower. So there is no base clock speed. Unless you use an overclocking utility to override the settings, the 290X for example will not let the fan speed exceed 40% of its top speed, to preserve noise levels and thermals over performance. So if you don't have optimal system cooling, you get lower levels of performance, to maintain the thermals. This is counterintuitive to my brain!
If you do not wish to tweak your PC parts out of spec, for whatever reason, you should think twice about buying the R9 series cards. Without some tuning, you will not get the speeds in benchmarks you're seeing on the net. Most of the big review sites do not review GPUs in a closed case as you will. They have open system benches built for the convenience of swithcing out parts with ease. These issues the R9 displays are not going to be exposed unless thermal loads are real world. The R9 also has much higher operating temperatures. Their gaming mode temperature target is 90-95C. NVIDIA has much more efficient operating temps around 80-85C. The temperatures vary depending on the specific model. Fan noise levels are another consideration. Higher temps means more fan speed. The decibel scale is logarithmic so a few dbA higher can be much louder! You can read more about all of this here.
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